How to Ride Your Bike in the Heat
When you ride across the United States it is important to know how to ride your bike in the heat as you will most likely ride on some hot days in the desert. These days will test you, but should not break you if you follow a plan. Execution of your plan should begin several days prior to your ride. NOTE: As you read through this three-step plan you will see the word HYDRATE in each of the three steps. Hydration is important!
BEFORE YOUR RIDE
- Start your bike ride in the heat well hydrated. Does that mean gulp down a bottle of water first thing the morning of the ride? Not exactly. Hydration for a hot desert ride starts days before the ride. Increasing your overall liquid intake will hydrate your entire body. To hold onto the hydration longer, increase your intake of juicy fruits and vegetables. Think about watermelon, apples, oranges, etc. If you are not currently using an energy mix in your bottles, try a few out until you find one that agrees with you. You need to know well in advance of your ride in the heat what keeps your stomach happy.
- Start smart. Start early. Exposure to the elements is a serious consideration. If you are riding with a professional cross country tour group your ride director will be in tune with the weather and will arrange for an early start. If you are on your own with friends, sticking a bagel in your pocket, grabbing a cup of coffee, and getting down the road isn’t a bad idea. Know in advance where your next opportunity for food and water refill will be. Carry more than you will need.
- Protect yourself. Sunscreen is critical. Not only does it protect you from a nasty burn, it also keeps you cooler. Cream up before you leave and carry a small tube with you to reapply during your ride. Don’t forget about the tips of your ears and the part in your hair. A skull cap or even a paper towel in your helmet works really well. Wear a lighter colored jersey. Have you tried arm and leg coolers? This would be a good time to invest. They last for years. And, think about your fingers. With all day direct exposure to the sun, you might just enjoy a pair of summer weight full fingered gloves.
DURING YOUR RIDE
- Once you are on your way, drink before you feel thirsty. Set an alarm for every 15 minutes and make sure you are getting down at least a bottle an hour when you ride your bike in the heat.
- Be efficient when you stop. While it is important to stop, refill and refuel, it is also important to reach your destination in good time. Don’t linger too long when you stop. Your body will thank you in the long run and your next day will be more successful and pleasant. Usually when you are crossing the desert it’s more than just a one day adventure. You will most likely get up and ride again tomorrow.
- Cool yourself. In the heat of the day it is a wise idea to cool externally. While ice vests usually won’t be available, often time ice socks can be used to improvise. What is an ice sock? Take two white socks, fill them with ice and hang them around your neck under your jersey. (We use a big safety pin to attach them together) After the ice melts, you will still be cooled by the wet socks. No ice? Soak the socks in water. It will help cool you!
- Slow down when you ride your bike in the heat. While it is important to reach your destination in a timely manner, it is also important to give your body a break in the heat. You’re not racing, you are touring. By slowing down just a bit you will save the energy that you may need tomorrow.
AFTER YOUR RIDE
- Keep hydrating after you ride your bike in the heat. If your urine is dark yellowish brown you are very, very dehydrated. Drink up! By forcing liquids, you will flush toxins out of your system and feel your body coming back to life. Water is life. Keep an eye on your urine and look for almost clear to pale yellow. It’s important to replace the electrolytes in your body, so be careful to drink replacement liquids as well as water. View Dehydration Urine Color Chart
- Eat within an hour. Thirty minutes is actually better. Remember, protein rebuilds muscle, and you’ve given your muscles a real workout. Read more here. So often riders wait until dinner time thinking they will spoil their appetite if they eat after their ride. Not true. You’ll be able to eat again later. Eating soon after you finish riding is critical to tomorrow’s ride. Eat and drink.
- Take a nap. What did you do today? You exerted yourself when you decided to ride your bike in the heat. You stressed your body and now you need to thank it for the grand effort. Lie down and rest. Eat.
- Tomorrow is only a night’s sleep away. You’ve done everything right so far. You continued to drink, replacing the electrolytes so necessary for your body. You ate within thirty minutes of the end of your ride and you rested. Now…..get down on the floor and give your tired body a good stretch. Tomorrow, you will thank yourself, and your body will thank you too, with another amazing day on your bike. Learn to stretch.